The Illusion of a Palestinian Kingmaker in Israel

April 14, 2021

As we look forward, we shall see yet another Israeli government dedicated to destroying Palestine and its people led once again by Benjamin Netanyahu.
MARCH 3: Head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh (2nd L), the members Heba Yazbak (R), Mansour Abbas (L), Mtanes Shehadeh (3rd L), Aida Touma (4th R), Ahmed Tibi (4th L) and Ofer Cassif (2nd R) attend a program in Israel's northern city of Shefa-Amr on March 2, 2020, after polls officially closed in Israeli general elections. Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf. Anadolu Agency.

There are two things that are certain after Israel’s fourth election in two years: the first is that Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to be Israel’s Prime Minister. The second, that no Arab party will have any part in Netanyahu’s continued reign as PM. These elections had given an undeniable victory to Benjamin Netanyahu. In a strategy that can be seen as divide and rule, Netanyahu has been very successful at dividing his opposition and now he may rule over them as they come begging him for a piece of the pie.

One of the strangest misconceptions that has risen immediately after the results of the elections were announced is that Mansour Abbas, who leads the Islamic United Arab Party will somehow become “kingmaker.” They claim that his vote in the Knesset will tip the scales and that the next Israeli prime minister will be in his debt. This claim stems from a lack of appreciation for the racist Zionist ideology and how, like a thread, it runs through all of Israel’s Zionist political parties, left, right and center.

But who needs a king maker when the king, Benjamin Netanyahu sits on his throne comfortably and unchallenged? In the previous elections, one may recall Netanyahu did face a serious challenge and his decade long tenure seemed as though it was going to end. The President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, had given the official mandate to form a government to Netanyahu’s challenger, former IDF Chief Benny Gantz. Everyone was sure that Ganz would finally unseat Netanyahu, as he had promised to do in his campaign. He even had the numbers to do it.

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However, Netanyahu managed to get Gantz to go back on his word to the voters. He agreed to sit in Netanyahu’s government even though this meant destroying the political coalition he had created, which included two other former IDF Chiefs, and the first real challenge to Netanyahu in a decade fizzled away. Gantz ended up working for Netanyahu as Defense Minister and his reputation and following practically disappeared.

He was promised that Netanyahu would vacate his seat when half of his term was over and that Ganz would be Prime Minister for the second half of their term, but really, no one believed that Netanyahu would follow through. In agreeing to sit in Netanyahu’s government Gantz sealed his fate to be a footnote in Israeli politics, and in this last election his party received only eight seats in the Knesset. This is after being a step away from the Premiership.

Netanyahu, having successfully destroyed any chance of another coalition being put together to unseat him now sits comfortably with thirty seats in the Knesset, followed by Yair Lapid’s party with 17 seats.

In the past, Gantz ran as leader of not only his own party but of a coalition of parties that agreed to follow him under the slogan of “No to Netanyahu.” It was that coalition that almost brought Netanyahu down. But it was disbanded when Gantz broke his promise. Netanyahu, having successfully destroyed any chance of another coalition being put together to unseat him now sits comfortably with thirty seats in the Knesset, followed by Yair Lapid’s party with 17 seats.

Now the horse training begins. Who will join the government and what portfolio he or she will receive in return? As was said before, there is no better, more politically savvy, and more experienced political horse trader in Israeli politics than Benjamin Netanyahu.

As Netanyahu has already shown, even the most ardent “No to Netanyahu” supporters forget themselves when they are presented with the possibility of getting a seat at his table. In his current government coalition, the one that now sits as a lame-duck government, he even managed to get members of the Labor Party to join him, even though Labor is historically Netanyahu’s biggest opposition.

Breaking the logjam and building a coalition is always a long and tedious process. The Israeli political system allows small parties to wield more political power than the voters had given them because the larger parties need them to seal the deal, and they know it. Historically, the religious parties were the ones who broke the logjam as they were willing to sit with whoever agreed to provide them with their demands.

Today there are three religious Jewish parties who total 21 seats and they will gladly give their vote to Netanyahu. But there are other small parties, in fact most of the parties this time around have between six and eight seats and this gives Netanyahu the ability to play them against each other, something he does with great skill.

Few people expected that the United Arab Party, which broke away from the Joint Arab List, would even make the threshold required to get into the Knesset. However, they did manage to receive four seats and almost immediately news reports came out that they will be the ones to break the political logjam and provide Netanyahu the votes he needs to remain a PM. Others said that the party, led by Mansour Abbas, would be the tie breaker and may join the anti- Netanyahu block, allowing Yair Lapid to unseat Netanyahu.

Abbas then held a press conference where he gave a speech that was heralded as “historic.” However, the speech, which was given in Hebrew, was an uninspiring, colorless speech in which he said nothing significant. He did introduce himself as a Muslim, as an Arab and as a citizen of the State of Israel. Obviously aiming to please his Zionist listeners, he did not once mention the word Palestinian, or Palestine.

Mansour Abbas is a lackluster politician who until recently was unknown. He may be enjoying his moment in the limelight, but one might suggest to him that he should not get too comfortable. The limelight will pass quickly enough, and he will return to being ignored and invisible to the rest of the Israeli political world. Palestinian citizens of Israel have enormous problems: State sanctioned racism, the worst poverty rates among Israeli citizens, and at every step they are controlled by the Israeli secret police, the Shabak.

The Israeli Police sits idly by as drugs and weapons stolen from Israeli army stockpiles fill the streets of their cities. Year after year, gang wars take the lives of countless bystanders in the 1948 Palestinian cities. Palestinian casualties from accidents on constructions sites grow each year with no accountability and no end in sight, and there is a complete lack of development or planning for these fast-growing communities. Neglect by the state is part and parcel of the lives of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

For decades Palestinians have tried to work within the Israeli political system. Some did so by joining the ruling parties. Others tried to get attention as opposition parties and for over seven decades tried to bring attention to the plight of these Palestinians who had the burden of Israeli citizenship – a citizenship that gives them few rights – imposed on them. But to no avail. They have failed not because of any fault of their own. The State failed them and will continue to do so. The State that took their lands and exiled their families and neighbors does not want them and does not care to solve their problems.

As we look forward, we shall see yet another Israeli government dedicated to destroying Palestine and its people led once again by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Miko Peled is a writer and human rights activist born in Jerusalem, currently living in the United States. He is the author of the books The General’s Son: The Journey of an Israeli in Palestine and Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation.